Monday, March 16, 2009

PANAMA PART 4 "Riders in the Storm"

"Adios, Ulysses....Wish I'd Gotten to Know You Better"

Fifty Bucks? Why I wouldn't pay fifty bucks... I gave the man fifty bucks. Keep in mind that it is still pouring and the water's rising. I should be thankful he didn't ask for a hundred. OK. This gracious taxi driver was the proud owner of some unknown brand vehicle that was made in China about the same time they were making The Wall. The age and make of the taxi wasn't near as relevant as it's size. It could easily have been called "The Mouse Mobile". Maria had her backpack the size of the Goodyear blimp and I had my Hefty overnighter(which had all this time, been double wrapped in Hefty trash bags). The two pieces of luggage would have fit nicely had it not been for a HUGE guitar (maybe a cello) and A big black bag of "stuff". The black bag looked suspiciously like a body bag, but I wasn't about to even think like that. With a crowbar and help from the townspeople, we scrunched it in. That left Maria and me for the front seat...a front seat that is roughly 12 inches wide. We managed though, by Maria molding herself somehow on my lap. Uncomfortable wasn't the word. Actually, I thought it was quite cozy. OK!!!!...I was in hog heaven.

The winding 22 miles of road to Changuinola is beautiful. But the driver said we ain't going to Changuinola..the road's out. OH MY. Then where we are we going? Almirante, he said. OH, I said, I've never been to Almirante. Now it's 24 miles to Almirante and I'm sure the drive is quite scenic...a beautiful sight to behold with it's hairpin turns and thousand foot sheer drop offs into dense tropical foliage and other things. But not pitch dark in the pouring rain. "We gotta hurry...the last boat for Bocas del Toro leaves Almirante at 8!!" Just what I wanted to hear..."We Got to Hurry". My fears for breakneck speeds were unfounded when I noticed that the little overstuffed, Chinese made in prehistoric times, Mouse Mobile could barely make it to the top of each hill. I found my fears again when the taxi driver kept yakking at us, trying to ogle down Maria's blouse. "Shouldn't you be watching the road?" I politely questioned. "Why? I Know The Way" I was soundly assured. I continued to pray.

Prayers are answered. We got there. I kissed the ground again. My lips still bear abrasion marks. We unloaded and the driver disappeared into the void with his guitar, body bag, and my fifty bucks. It is still raining, but here we are at the boat dock and it's only 7:45. Bocas, here we come!!! Nope. The friendly guy at the dock (he sleeps on his boat) told us we were crazy if we thought we could get a boat ride to Bocas in this weather..."got fifty bucks?" Fifty Bucks?

Be back for Part 5.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

PANAMA PART 3 "At The Border....And Going South"

Sorry, I was away so long, I had to summon up some courage to continue.

This is a "pothole" compared to the way the road was that day.
That day, the road wasn't there.

This is a picture of a boat similar to the one we used, except for 3 things: (1) This boat has a top, (2) This boat is much larger, (3) This boat is fairly well-built

Now, before I get started, I posted two pictures above to kinda give ya an idea of the circumstances. The race begins..Maria and Jesse James Willie speed ahead down the road, while the overweight, ten pack of ciggies a day, 62 year old, "Loco Gringo Bozo" (that's me, in case you were wondering) chugs pitifully behind. At the little border office there are 2 Costa Rican Border Employees behind the glass drinking coffee and ogling the daily "La Teja". There are several fine daily newspapers in Costa Rica..La Teja is so popular because, lacking any talent for news reporting, it features several very exposing photos of a few beautiful Costa Rican women wearing little more than imagination. To see what atrocious and sensational photos this disgusting periodical is blatantly flaunting, I have to inspect it daily. Actually, inspect it several times to make sure I didn't miss anything.

But I digress. These "helpful" border agen
ts offer a broad, friendly smile as they tell us "Cerrado...Abierte manana, tal vez." "Closed...Open tomorrow...maybe". Maria and I stand on the road and gaze down at the inundated town of Sixaola, it's residences long since evacuated. We watch with rapt fascination as a bathtub-sized raft filled with roaches drifts past....evacuees from Sixaola's only hotel/brothel. I look at Maria. Maria looks at me. We both look at Willie with sheer terror and bewilderment. Willie looks back with amusement or boredom...can't really tell which. He, in very laid back fashion, utters two words..."Panama, mon".

"The Bridge From Hell"
One of the few Bridges I've known that you can
get a good view of the river, standing in the middle, looking down.

A closer look at the "Bridge from Hell"

The three of us nonchalantly stroll past the border station, it's two dedicated agents lost in their "Tejas". It's almost dark, so they probably wouldn't have noticed us anyway..or cared. And so we set out across the Verrrrrry Long Bridge that crosses the Sixaola River to reach Panama. I am not exaggerating one single bit when I say that crossing THAT BRIDGE is somewhat dangerous in broad daylight. Crossing it in the pouring rain at almost nightfall is suicidal and downright stupid. We crossed it in the pouring rain at almost nightfall. Reaching Panama, I kissed the ground....I would have kissed Maria, too, but it didn't look like she was in the mood. Actually, I've seen stuff washed up on the beach that looked more content than she looked at the moment. And more say that she looked like a drowned rat would have been complimentary.

The Panama border town was at least not underwater. I don't know if they have a hotel there, but I do know that the town is about the LAST place I'm going to spend the night. Willie, our current "Mighty Mouse" came to save the day. Or save the night, really, because it is now dark....and, needless to say, pouring rain. He found us a taxi to take us to Chaguinola...the staging town for the boat ride to...BOCAS DEL TORO!!!! The taxi is usually only 5 or 6 bucks. Willie smiled as I gave him a ten dollar tip and then told us that the driver was only going to charge us 50 bucks. FIFTY BUCKS??? FIFTY BUCKS??? CINQUENTA U.S. DOLLARS??

At this point, I'm going to have a cup of coffee and paint a bit. I'll continue this saga when I'm good and ready. Your buddy from Mesoamerica...James